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The GKIS Sensible Parent’s Guide to Snapchat


I have mixed feelings about red-lighting the popular self-destructing messaging app, Snapchat, and I’ll tell you why. I Snapchat with my daughter and the other twenty-somethings and its fun! Like all social media apps, Snapchat can be used for good or evil. They say it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people that kill people. The same applies for social media. So here’s the deal; if the individual using Snapchat has a mature frontal lobe and life experience, this app is way cool. But if the user is young and impulsive, Snapchat provides an effective forum for bad behavior in the form of pictures, videos, and texts. Unfortunately, there are no monitoring apps that I know of that work with Snapchat. However, there are many apps that that let recipients sneakily save chats from unsuspecting senders. Keep in mind, social media apps post risks for viewing, posting, and private messaging. Here is your GetKidsInternetSafe Sensible Parent’s Guide to Snapchat so you can make your most informed parenting decision. 

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a free mobile messaging app for sharing moments with family or friends. Photos or videos are taken on the application and the user may draw and add a “caption” to their picture and send it to anyone on their “friends” list. Snapchat also contains a “story” (a saved video on static page for 24 hours) where friends can view your photo and/or video series. The photos or videos last up to ten seconds and then it disappears. The photos can be saved if the other person viewing it takes a screen shot; however it will notify the sender. Also, the sender may save their photos anytime if they are on their “story.” You can also instant message with Snapchat. Snapchat’s Terms of Use states, “Snapchat is intended for people who are at least 13 years old. Persons under the age of 13 are prohibited from creating Snapchat accounts.”

What are Snapchat’s popular features?

Snapchat is highly intriguing to users because the messaging is photo/video based. This is a step-by-step description of how to use it:

  • Take a photo
  • Tap screen to add caption; tap the “T” in the right hand corner to change font size and color. Tap the square next to “T” to add an emoji, and/or tap the pencil in the right hand corner to draw on picture.
  • Apply a filter by swiping right on the photo; includes three different tints for pictures, a “mph” to show friends how “fast” you’re going if in a moving vehicle, the time photo or video was taken, and the temperature of where you are. You can only choose one of these filters at a time.
  • At the bottom left you can click the little clock and choose how long you want your picture to appear when sent to friends from 1-10 seconds. You can also click the arrow pointing down if you want to download the picture you just took onto your device. Lastly on the bottom left corner you can click the square with a plus sign to “add to your story,” the picture will remain on your story for 24 hours.
  • At the bottom right corner of the screen, you click the arrow pointing to the right to send the photo to your friends. When clicking here you can choose what friends you want to send it to.
  • Check the box of the friends you want it sent to; on the bottom the friends you chose will show up in a blue link with an arrow pointing to the right. You click the arrow once your friends are chosen.
  • The list of friends include, “Your Story,” “Best Friends,” “Recents,” and “Needs Love.” Your story was previously mentioned before; you just have another option to add the photo to your story a different way. Your best friends consist of those you send Snapchats to the most. Recents are those who recently sent you a Snapchat or those you recently sent a Snapchat to. Lastly those on the needs love list are those who are on your Snapchat list of friends but you don’t Snapchat them often nor sent them a Snapchat recently.

What is included in the personal profile?

  • There is not a “personal profile” per se, but there are ways to find your friends who are on Snapchat. You can pull down the top of the Snapchat screen to view your name, user name, and your “score.” There’s a link with a smiley face that says “Added Me” to see those that have recently added you on Snapchat. Then there’s a link that says “Add Friends” and you can search by username, address book, snapcode, or nearby or add from your contacts list.
  • Those who are not your friends cannot see your photos until they add you by selecting the box with a plus in it; people can find you using any of the things stated above, but most commonly people will add through “contact” list or user name.


What are the privacy options?

On the screen mentioned above, at the top right hand corner there is a settings link. When you click it you can see all your information you used when signing up for Snapchat.


When you scroll down there is a Privacy section and you can choose who you receive Snapchats from, who your story is shared with. Select “Everyone” or “My Friends.”


How long has it been around and how popular is it?

Snapchat was created by Stanford University students, Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brow. It was first launched in July, 2011, under the name “Picaboo.” Later it was renamed and relaunched September, 2011.

What are the risks for use?

Cyberbully potential:

  • Friends sending threatening/cruel messages or offensive pictures
  • Fake accounts and impersonation.
  • Mostly used with friends or people the individual knows; so if there is an argument they may say or do hurtful things through the app.

Inappropriate content potential:

  • Sexualized images
  • Instant messaging inappropriately
  • Some consider it the “sexting app;” may receive inappropriate pictures or messages; may send them to others as well.
  • Often times, people feel as if they are safe to use this as a “sexting app” due to the fact that the app will notify you if someone has taken a screenshot. They may think that no one will screenshot their inappropriate photo because it notifies the sender. Or if they get notified that someone took a screenshot they may feel that they can take action.

However, it’s important to note that there are apps that a user can download that allow them to screenshot the sender’s photos without it sending a notification. Some of these apps are called, “SnapKeep,” “SnapBox,” “SnapSpy,” “KeepSnap.” This is important to know, because people get too comfortable with pictures when they believe that after 10 seconds it’s magically gone; this may not be case.

Making poor decisions:

  • Bragging about substance use to friends by taking photos of alcohol use, drug use, or pictures at a party
  • Using device while driving to use the “mph” filter to brag about the speed of the vehicle you are in. This also can lead to driving over speed limit.

What are the protection features?

  • You can change your privacy settings to where only friends can send you Snapchats or see your story (view privacy settings).
  • If a user is sending inappropriate images you can block them by going to your friend’s list, tap the name of the friend, click the settings link, and click “block.” You will no longer be able to receive or send Snapchats to that user; they also will no longer be allowed to see your story.




Because of the capacity to post images and video unmonitored and instant message, GKIS considers Snapchat a red light app, meaning no use prior to age 18 years. Also look out for similar apps BurnNote, Slingshot, and Yik Yak. Check out my blog article about how this dad responded to Snapchatters who were cyberbullying his daughter, and how it caused the bully’s dad to lose his job. What are your experiences with Snapchat? Have you run across problems, or do you consider this a reasonable app for your kids? Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

11755355_1062290680448181_4814698546326661932_nThank you to CSUCI student Adrienne Roy-Gasper for co-authoring this article.




I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

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